For some years now, the Pakistani tourism industry is generating some great, heartening buzz. Recently, Pakistan topped the Condé Nast Traveler’s list of best holiday destinations for 2020. The British Backpackers Society (BBS) has also declared Pakistan as the third most adventurous travel destination for the current year. In 2018, BBS had rated Pakistan as the world’s number 1 travel destination too for its ‘breathtaking mountain scenery, fabulous food, and probably the world’s greatest road trip’.
With Pakistan getting the global spotlight for tourism, the local travel & tourism industry is also seeing a rebirth of sorts. The hotel industry of Pakistan, for one, is witnessing a heavier footfall than it has in decades. But, given a long hiatus owing to the poor law-and-order situation, this industry hasn’t been able to grow, evolve, and improve its standards. Fortunately, some forward-looking startups are working to change that.
The ProPakistani team sat with Mr. Talha Gadit, CEO of Batoota.pk – an up-and-coming online hotel booking portal, tour operator, and tourism information resource – to discuss the present and future of the Pakistani hotel industry. The conversation went as follows:
ProPakistani: Please tell us what Batoota.pk is and its value proposition for users.
Talha Gadit: Well, to understand Batoota.pk, one has to understand its emotional aspect before the commercial one. Those who are staying abroad will agree with the notion that we always feel a need of having a platform that showcases our beautiful Pakistan to the world as we Pakistanis see it. We waited long for someone else to come up with such a platform, but I think destiny chose us to do so.
Batoota.pk model revolves around making a partnership with the locals of the country and becoming a brand of their country. But the question is, how will it be done? The answer is quite simple: mainly through 4 things:
- Develop an indigenous and fully automated solution to make bookings fun for customers
- Keep low commissions to pass on benefits to local hoteliers and tourism industry
- Offer international quality customer services to our users; once they taste it, then they own it
- Identify Batootians across Pakistan who would like to promote their city, village, or town through videos, pictures, or blogs, and publish their material on Batoota.pk portal
Imagine a platform through which you not only make your online bookings but can also contribute to showcasing our beloved country to the world. Isn’t it exciting?!
ProPakistani: What prompted you to venture into the tourism and hospitality industry of Pakistan?
Talha Gadit: You may call us a bunch of passionate entrepreneurs or daydreamers, but we have a dream which we want to live during our lifetimes. We wish to see Pakistan’s airports filled with foreigners as we see in Dubai, streets filled with tourists as they’re in Turkey, and Pakistan to top not only as a Best Destination for Tourism but to compete with France and Spain to top the list of countries with the highest number of tourists.
I am sure every Pakistani dreams for it, we just went one step ahead to make it as our career. We are very hopeful that we will get huge support from our fellow Pakistanis to make Batoota.pk a brand of Pakistan and a platform to showcase the dynamism and beauty of the country.
ProPakistani: Pakistan has recently come into global limelight as a tourist hotspot. Has the hotel industry started to feel the impact of this positive development?
Talha Gadit: Pakistan has shown an upward trend in terms of the number of tourists over the past 3 years and hoteliers are having high hopes for the coming season too. It can also be vouched by the fact that there are many new small- and medium-sized hotel establishments coming into existence.
However, the spread of coronavirus might adversely affect global tourism, especially Pakistan as its tourism is primarily single-season based.
ProPakistani: How many hotels do you have listed on Batoota.pk and where do you see that number reaching by the end of 2020?
Talha Gadit: Registering hotels on Batoota.pk is easy as any hotel or guest house can register their property online through our portal. Our team visits each hotel to ensure that it is a suitable and comfortable place for our guests to stay in. The number of verified hotels on our portal is around 500 which has the potential to jump up to at least 1,000 by the end of the year.
ProPakistani: What sets you apart from the rest of similar services in the local market?
Talha Gadit: Essentially, there are 3 things that we believe contribute to giving us a competitive edge:
- Quality of services
- Easy & secure, fully automated online booking portal
- Opportunity to partner with us in promoting Pakistan
ProPakistani: In spite of growing domestic and international travel, a majority of hotels in Pakistan fail to deliver in terms of comfort, cleanliness, facilities, and affordability. What is your view that should be done to fix this?
Talha Gadit: I agree with you on this but can’t blame hoteliers for this. Imagine a country which has been deprived of tourism for decades, can we expect from them to offer international quality standards? Of course not.
The solution is only one: to have more and more foreign tourists. This is because the more they visit, the greater will get the demand for quality lodging and hospitality services. Resultantly, hoteliers will be forced to take the necessary steps to meet those demands if they want to stay in business.
It would change the rules of the business by making quality as important a factor for industry competition as is competitive pricing. And that’s exactly what Batoota.pk is aiming for since the beginning. It’s a time-consuming solution, but any sustainable solution has to be devised organically.
ProPakistani: Do hotels need to meet a certain criterion to get listed with Batoota.pk? If yes, what is your quality check protocol?
Talha Gadit: We welcome all the hoteliers to register their properties through our online portal. Upon receiving of property listing request, our team verifies the data and visits it. Based on the set checklist that comprises important factors like quality of the room, kitchen, washrooms, amenities, etc., our team rates the establishment, not to mention that quality is rated in comparison with the price.
ProPakistani: Talking about the quality of services, what is your message for existing and would-be hotel owners?
Talha Gadit: The best form of marketing is by word of mouth and hoteliers have the privilege to meet the people in person who would be talking about them. Try to sell an experience to them and not just the rooms. Knowing if someone is visiting you for the honeymoon, for instance, some flowers or chocolates on the bed to welcome the couple won’t cost much but will let them remember you in good words for a long time.
Another advice for them is to try to be as thorough and accurate about their property as possible while registering it with any online portal. This will avoid generating any false expectations with the customers.
ProPakistani: What is Batoota.pk doing in terms of educating people and keeping them updated on the latest hotel and tourism trends in Pakistan?
Talha Gadit: Our model revolves around generating content to promote tourism in Pakistan. For that, we keep publishing videos and blogs for user information. We are also partnering with the Gilgit Baltistan (GB) government in marketing tourism in the province. All GB related data like maps and informative brochures are available on our portal and can be downloaded here: www.batoota.pk/batootas-guide
ProPakistani: Where in your view do we stand in terms of the professional hospitality skills of our hotel staff?
Talha Gadit: Except for a few big names that are managed as corporates and focus on employee training, most of the hotels and guest houses are family-owned businesses that don’t have a proper mechanism of training. So, I must say that there is huge room for improvement for most of the hotels in terms of staff training too. It’s high time they did it as international tourism is already picking up in the country.
I am positive that the dynamics of the Pakistani tourism industry will change for the better as a result of the increase in international tourism. This will also create demand for enhanced quality lodging and dining services for tourists, besides attracting foreign investments in this booming sector.
ProPakistani: Please share your experience as a startup. Did you undergo some training at an incubator or accelerator program?
Talha Gadit: It’s been a roller-coaster; every day you get a different level of adrenaline rush. Seems like I am almost addicted to it now. But what it teaches you is resistance, adaptability, and learning from your mistakes.
We keep our friends everywhere so we have friends in a few incubators as well, but I didn’t attend any official pieces of training myself. I and my partner have enough experience in the professional world as we have worked for multibillion-dollar companies and understand the dynamics of the business.
ProPakistani: What were the challenges that you faced as an early-stage startup? And what are the challenges that you’re faced with today?
Talha Gadit: The biggest challenges for any startup are mainly team-building and cash management. By the grace of Allah, we not only have built a passionate team but also have grown to become a family. Batoota is as much theirs as it’s mine.
Besides this, we faced and are still facing one challenge which I don’t think we can change at least in the short term. I don’t want to upset the ProPakistani readers, but I do want them to know and realize before they jump to form a startup that initiating a sustainable entrepreneurial venture continues to be a challenge in Pakistan. It is unfortunate that we haven’t yet reached that level of maturity where the business community considers startups as serious business.
Elsewhere in the world, corporate leaders tend to support their local startups acknowledging their efforts and the risks they took, which in some cases, also means quitting comfortable jobs to make the startup viable and market-ready.
However, the people sitting in the Pakistani corporates hardly extend any support to even the most promising of the startups. In many instances, the early-stage startups are often discouraged by our corporate leaders and are compared with the biggest names of the market, which is unfair.
I believe that starting up a business venture of any sort or size makes you strong, resilient, and perseverant and no discouragement should stop you from pursuing it. Besides, there might come a day when those who discouraged you would come and apply for a job in your newfound company!
ProPakistani: What is your view is the future of Pakistan’s tourism and hospitality industry? And what is the future of Batoota.pk that you envision?
Talha Gadit: It is written on the wall, it is imminent and it has to happen that Pakistan tourism in the next 5 years will not only increase many folds but would also change the rules of the game. Those who will not focus on the quality will soon be kicked out of the competition. I can see many international hotel brands entering Pakistan very soon.
I can also predict some luxury resorts building up near the amazing lakes, and I can tell you that if Pakistan plays its cards well, then Insha Allah in the next 10 years, we can enter the list of top 10 countries with the highest number of tourists.
I also see Batoota.pk becoming a brand of Pakistan, reaching out to other countries as Pakistan’s ambassador. Even if Batoota.pk becomes a billion-dollar company but we fail to connect emotionally with the people of Pakistan, I would say that we haven’t achieved our vision as this is the core of our model.
Once we have successfully implemented this model in Pakistan, we will take the same to different countries and would assist them to showcase their country to the rest of the World.